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    1. [Essay] Impermanence in architecture


      Impermanence in architecture had been discussed in multiples publications as an important purpose of studying human past experience, especially in Asia. Along with a lot of Asian countries’ architecture such as those of Chinese and Indian, Japanese architecture serves as no exception. However, it is important to understand that it is a continuous process: the concept of impermanence is relevant to Japanese past, contemporary and future building practice. It can be an end result of adaptation to crisis and situations in need by using technology, as well as a manifestation from a way of thinking that emphasizes the intangible values of a space, than its physical structure. Through the studies of Japanese architecture, we can also gain further insight into the concept of impermanence in other culture’s architecture.

      Impermanence is one of the results from man’s living in a world of manifest phenomena. Correa had described man’s principles of exploring the world through the definition of himself and his action in relation to cosmos.

      Even the buildings are the embodiment of cosmos. Through time, this relative relationship of man to “cosmos” had evolved into that to “the Age of Reason” and its subsets of Rationality, Science and Technology. To Japanese, architecture is one of the means to adapt to these notions. Japanese architecture adapts promptly to environment through the use of technology, which can be best described by Bognar’s statement in “What Goes Up, Must Come Down” as: “Due to its ideas about the subtle and not-so-subtle workings of nature, Japanese culture has evolved around the notion of impermanence.”1 Shigeru Ban’s recycled cardboard tubes emergency shelter had been one of the best examples to illustrate this approach.

      Recognizing the fact that Japan and a lot of countries (such as Sri Lanka, India and Nepal) around the world have to deal with natural disasters such as earthquake or tsunami, the architect had come up with an innovative solution to get shelters up quickly and at a cheap cost (less transportation cost and material cost is only around $2000 for 52 square meters). Furthermore, this kind of emergency shelter also illustrates Ford’s statement that technology had allowed this high-quality, low-cost solution to happen with a vision to “recognize the need for sophisticated long-term maintenance and for the replacement of parts.” The structure is easy to dismantle and set up, which means almost anyone can become a contractor. In addition, according to Ford, architecture also needs to “place architect, contractor, and user in a long-term relationship.” A lot of these structures can be built with the help of unskilled people such as volunteers and the users themselves anywhere. Materials are replaceable, easy to manufacture dispose and to find, which helps users to maintain and keep the building in good shape.

      Architecture does not only exist in a structural form, but also in other unquantifiable values such as experience, religious influence, cultural values, etc. In Japan, there is a notable case of The Ise Shrine that illustrates these principles.

      One may argue that this shrine is either 20 or 1300 years old, because it got a tradition of being constantly reconstructed once every 20 years. According to Noboru Kawazoe, Japanese are not interested in preserving old wooden buildings because “the philosophy of impermanence of all things was a solace to a people that built only in wood.” The shrine deems to follow a way of thinking that suggests “everything that had physical, concrete form…was doomed to decay; only style was indestructible.” However, one must not confuse that the attempt to preserve this “style” suggests an architectural or structural style for a specific ancient Japanese era. What the shrine tries to preserve is its traditional material use being wood, and the 20-year cycle of reconstructing practice. Therefore, this has become similar to what Sola Morales considers as “liquid architecture” that “replaces firmness with fluidity and the primacy of space with the primacy of time.” The physical presence is nothing but a representation of a building and cultural practice.

      However, it is not only about the devaluation of physical elements, but also the focus on invisible values that drives Ise Shrine’s reconstruction. As Isozaki had stated in his work named “From Japan-ness In Architecture,” since the shrine is heavily influenced by Taoist elements, there is an innate idea of an invisible presence of god (kami) that allows festival and rituals to surround this intangible being. This transcendental god can be invited to come to this shrine and depart. The place is nothing but a void, a “central nothing” to absorb, a compulsive expression of belief, to keep the transcendental experience lasting forever. This void absorbs and morphs into a contemporary culture that is embraced by the so-called Western civilization: a culture which “first concern is with change, with transformation, and with the processes set in play by time.” This relationship between the void and the god becomes a part of the Ise Shrine’s identity and will be maintained and developed continuously in the future.

      In a larger context, this “liquid architecture” is not strictly unique for Japan, but also applies to ancient cities such as Soochow in China. Cities like Soochow were also “time free,” and was “repositories of the past in a very special way – They embodied or suggested associations whose value lay elsewhere” but physical elements. For example, except for the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Chinese’s interests in a city’s element such as Maple Bridge lay in poets’ moments of experience or reflection concerning the bridge, but not how the bridge looked like or got constructed. These cities’ approaches to impermanence are more than just different from the Western urban history and building design.

      In conclusion, there are multiples ways in which architectural impermanence may take form. Adapting to technology or simply valuing the experience or cultural value of a building over its structure makes a building’s physical presence replaceable. Through the understanding of how past and present architecture proceed in its impermanent principles, a future for architectural thinking may be established. It is important to understand that this notion of impermanence does not only apply only to Japan, but also to a lot of other cultural context in Asia.


      "The Humanitarian Works Of Shigeru Ban," Archdaily (2014).

      Botond Bognar, “What Goes Up, Must Come Down,” Harvard Design Magazine 3 (Fall 1997): 33-43.

      Charles Correa, “Vistara” The Architecture of India,” Mimar 27: Architecture in Development (1988): 1-2

      Edward Ford, “The Theory and Practice of Impermanence: The Illusion of Durability,” Harvard Design Magazine 3 (Fall 1997): 12-18.

      Arata Isozaki and David B. Stewart, Japanese-ness in Architecture, MIT Press (2006), Chapters 9-10.

      F.W. Mote, “A Millennium of Chinese Urban History: Form, Time, and Space

      Concepts in Soochow,” Rice University Studies 59, no. 4 (Fall 1973): 35-65.

      Ignasi de Solà-Morales, “Liquid Architecture,” in Anyhow, ed. Cynthia C. Davidson (Cambridge, MA; London, England: The MIT Press, 1998), 36-43

      Sửa lần cuối bởi Hayden; 15-11-2017 lúc 03:47.
      To go wrong in one's own way is better than to go right in someone else's.
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